Natural selection – Will Devlin

Natural selection

The Small Holding restaurant and bar in Kilndown has been rather busy of late with chef owner Will Devlin and his team busy preserving, pickling and laying down stores for the winter months.

The 26-cover AA rosette-awarded restaurant has been named one of the best in the county at the Taste of Kent Awards and is set in one acre of land, permitting a unique connection between farm and table.

Growing, foraging and cooking the best ingredients is at the core of The Small Holding, with daily changing menus using home-reared and home-grown ingredients from the farm, which is less than 10ft from the kitchen.

“We have been harvesting squash and gourds in all shapes and sizes, new season onions and shallots and wild mushrooms in the woods,” says Will of his recent foraging expeditions.

“And of course, the brambles all along the lanes in Kilndown were teaming with ripe and plump little blackberries earlier this autumn.”

As a result, Will and his team were able to create a number of both sweet and savoury dishes.

It’s around about now The Small Holding starts to move towards providing its customers with the fruits of their foraging trips, producing a range of comforting dishes such as the roast pheasant featured here.

They like to make a big thing of the British game season, but Will says people are often put off it if they have had tough and overly strong meat.

“We need to forget that. Game birds such as pheasant, grouse, partridge and mallard live off the land in the countryside, all eating naturally, meaning they are more ethical and have superior flavour.

“For the recipe shown here, I’ve partnered the tender and mildly gamey pheasant with fruity wild blackberries. I hope you enjoy it!”


Roast pheasant and blackberry sauce

Serves two

To prepare: 10 minutes, plus resting

To cook: 20 minutes

  • 1 whole, oven ready pheasant
  • Few sprigs of thyme
  • Splash of rapeseed or olive oil
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 180g of blackberries, preferably wild
  • 100ml ruby port or fruity red wine
  • 2 tablespoons blackberry jelly or jam
  • 100ml fresh chicken stock

1 Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Remove the pheasant from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook, rub all over with the oil and season well inside and out with salt
and pepper.

2 Heat a heavy-bottomed pan suitable for the oven and brown the pheasant all over, turning often, concentrating on the legs, so not to dry out the breast.

3 Put the butter and thyme inside the bird and roast in the oven for 16-18 minutes until just cooked through. Baste with the melted butter in the pan and remove to a shallow bowl to rest, breast side down, covered loosely with foil.

4 While the pheasant is resting, return the same pan to the heat and deglaze with the port and stock. Add the blackberry jelly and simmer over a high heat until syrupy. Stir in the wild blackberries to warm through.

5 Slice the whole breasts and legs from the pheasant and serve with mashed celeriac, blackberry sauce and wilted greens.

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